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XXXIV. On the Dialects of the Arabic Language, by the late Professor
Carltle. Communicated by William Marsdex, Esq., M.R.A.S., in the
following Letter to the Secretary.
Read March 3, 1827.
February 27, 1827.
"When that accomplished Oriental scholar, the late Professor Carlyle,
was proceeding on his travels to the Levant, I suggested some inquiries
respecting the differences he might have opportunities of remarking amongst
the spoken dialects of the Arabic language ; and as his answer contains some
curious information on the subject, I have thought it not unworthy of
beinj? communicated to the Roval Asiatic Society.
" Buyukdere, near Constantinople, September 10, 1801.
" My dear Sir :
" Accept my best thanks for your very kind letter, which I did not
receive until my return to Constantinople from my tour in Egypt, Syria,
and Asia Minor. I did myself the honour of writing to Lady S. from
Jaffa, just before I performed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, at which place I
spent a fortnight most interestingly. As I had seen the interior part of
Asia Minor in going, I wished to return by the coast, for which purpose I
embarked on board a Greek vessel at Jaffa, and occasionally touched at the
different islands of the Archipelago, as well as at several places of the
continent, which I judged would be best worth visiting ; and I need scarcely
say that I had a most interesting voyage.
" During my tour I had much opportunity of comparing the different
Arabian dialects. My own instructor, and the families with whom I speak
and read Arabic here, are from Aleppo. I passed six weeks (at Cyprus
and on board the Tigre) in company with the prince of the mountains and
fifteen of his attendants from different parts of the east as well as Africa.
"We had on board, at the same time, persons from Cairo ; and in my
journey through Palestine, I had sufficient opportunities of remarking the
dialects of that country. The discrepancies found to exist in some dialects
Professor Cjsltze on the Dialects of the Arabic Language. 581
of Arabic, may undoubtedly be referred in some degree to the different
mode of pronouncing several of the letters — a difference more considerable,
I believe, than in any other language. Thus, while a native of Baghdad
can discriminate completely between the j dal, the j dzal, the ^j, dhad, and
the k dim, the Aleppine makes little distinction between the sound of the
j dzal, the fe dha, and the : za, while he pronounces ^j, dhad, like a o dal.
On the other hand, the Syrian gives the sound of the j dal to all these
letters. Again, ■.• in the mouth of an inhabitant of Baghdad, is a guttural
k, but at Aleppo it is formed by a previous click with the tongue.* -
with an Egyptian, is generally hard as g in go. cS, in some parts of Syria,
is sounded like our sh ; thus t^i-o is pronounced as if it were ^JUj*.
The sound of the c ain, as affected with vowels, is only discriminated, as
far as I have observed, by the Aleppines, and with them its several
sounds, when united to the hesra, dliamma, and fatha, can only be con-
veved to the ear. "When joined to the first it is not indeed very different
from the sound of the French cei in their word ceil. Thus, in the word
which you adduce, i^, the Aleppines pronounce as if it were cciddat, but
rather more in the throat. The discrepancies, however, amongst the
Arabian dialects, I apprehend to be chiefly occasioned by two other causes :
the first, an admixture of different foreign idioms, and the second an adop-
tion of different synonymes to express the same idea, by the different nations
amongst whom this far-spreading language is spoken. Thus, from the first
of these causes, we must expect to find a considerable number of Turkish
words in the dialect of Aleppo ; of Persian in that of Baghdad ; and
perhaps of Malayan in that of the Arabic which prevails in the vicinity of
the Indian ocean. From the second of these causes it happens (to take an
instance) that a horse is expressed in Egypt by the word U L-^ , and in
Asia by J-i- ; both of which terms are pure Arabic ; both of them
expressing a species of horse. Now as the J^i. was probably more common
in Asia, and the J^>- in Egypt, each of these terms lost, in the mouths of
the vulgar, its specific acceptation, and assumed a generic one ; and thus it
is with various other words, which at the first view appear totally dissimilar,
* It would seem that in some parts of Africa, occupied by Arab tribes, the - has
the sound of g, as in the names of aLsJO, Dongola ; jLL, Shigre ; sj&j Wangarah, and
others — W. M.
582 Professor Caiilyle on the Dialects of the Arabic Language.
and which in fact are so to those who are only acquainted with the verna-
cular Arabic. If therefore we make allowance for these three causes :
pronunciation, admixture, and synonymes, I apprehend there will be found
little real difference amongst the dialects of Arabic ; none of which, I will
venture to assert (whatever Niebuhr and others may have thought), varies
materially from the language of the Koran. As you have led me into this
philological discussion, I make no apologies for it."
The untimely death of the Professor, in the year 1804, at the age of
forty-five, when he was engaged in editing the Arabic version of the Bible,
with the types newly designed by Mr. Wilkins, and executed under his
superintendence, was a severe, though, we may hope, not an irreparable
loss, to the interests of Asiatic literature in this country.
I am, Sir,
Your most obedient Servant,
(Signed) WM. MARSDEN.
To the Secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society.